Anchor Katie Couric interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Syria, Libya, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict May 19, 2011 -- an interview that ran as part of Couric's final broadcast for the CBS Evening News. A complete transcript follows:
Couric: In Syria, Secretary Clinton, the government crackdown has killed an estimated 700 people in the last two months. What took so long for the Administration to put these new sanctions into place?
Clinton: Well, Katie, I don't think it took long at all. I think we wanted to coordinate with our allies in the European Union, to talk to our friends and partners in the region, especially those that border Syria, Israel, Iraq, and others. And we also wanted to make it clear that, as the President just said in his speech, President Asad of Syria can either lead this transition or get out of the way. And unfortunately, the evidence thus far is that he's not providing the kind of leadership that is needed.
Couric: So are you willing to say he should get out of the way; President Asad must go?
Clinton: Well, I think President Obama was very clear. And what we want is to continue to support the voices of democracy, those who are standing against the brutality. But we're also well aware every situation is different, and in this one, Asad has said a lot of things that you didn't hear from other leaders in the region about the kind of changes he would like to see. That may all be out the window, or he may have one last chance.
Couric: At the same time, this Syrian regime is close to Iran. They're getting support from Iran to - for their tactics of suppression, if you will. They're - they support terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. So why not just say he needs to be removed?
Clinton: Well, you're right that Iran is supporting them, and the President mentioned that in his speech today. It hasn't been publicly talked about as much as the facts warrant, and we're calling them out on it. But I think we also know that there are many different forces at work in Syria, like in so many of the countries in the region. And we think it would be better if the people of Syria themselves made it clear to Asad that there have to be changes. And part of what the President - our President - Obama was doing today, was to say, "Do you want to end up like Iran, Syria? And President Asad, do you want to end up like a leader of a country that is further and further isolated?" So each of these situations has to be carefully calibrated, and I think the President got it just right.
Couric: So is the U.S. pursuing regime change in Syria?
Clinton: What we are doing is exactly what President Obama said: Either you lead the transition or get out of the way. How that happens is up to the people of that country.
Couric: The whole notion of regime change isn't working very well in Libya, is it?
Clinton: I disagree with that. I think we are seeing slow but steady progress. The pressure on the Qadhafi regime has increased to the point that Qadhafi's wife and daughter fled across the border into Tunisia in the last two days. The oil minister has defected. There is an enormous amount of increased messaging going to Qadhafi, not just because of the military strikes but from those who he thought were in his camp or at least wouldn't try to push him to leave.
At the same time, the Transitional National Council and their military forces are getting better. They started off as being totally unprepared for what they were confronting. So we're making progress. I wish it would go faster, they certainly wish it would go faster, but we're on the right path.
Couric: How long are we willing to wait?
Clinton: Well, we're feeling very encouraged by the trend. And what we want to see is a change in regime in Libya and a move toward a democratic government. And I think we're prepared to keep the pressure on till that happens.
Couric: Why does the killing of civilians in Libya justify U.S. military involvement, but the killing of civilians in Syria does not?
Clinton: Well, part of the reason is look at the difference in the reaction of the world. It was very clear that not only Europeans, but most importantly, neighbors and the Arab League itself all reached the same conclusion at the same time about Libya and Qadhafi. Now, I think it's very important that, as President Obama has said and repeated again today, we have real interests as the United States. We have security interests, we have economic interests, and we have interests that affect our values, because we do believe in democracy and what it can bring to people.
But we also know that there's no one size fits all and there's no magic wand. If there were, we'd be waving it like crazy. And in Libya, what we had was a unique international coalition. What we're seeing now is increasing pressure on Syria. We're seeing the European Union taking actions, us upping the actions, and I think you'll see more in the days to come.
Couric: Why not exercise U.S. leadership, though, Secretary Clinton, and galvanize the international community to take more aggressive steps in Syria?
Clinton: There's no appetite for that, Katie. There's no willingness. We haven't had any of the kind of pressure that we saw building from our European NATO allies, from the Arab League and others, to do what has been done in Libya. Now, there are many reasons for that, historical reasons, strategic reasons. But the fact is that we are trying to be smart about how we evaluate each individual situation. We reached the conclusion in Libya that the United States could be part of an international effort. We were not the ones going to dictate it. We've got our hands full. We're fighting hard, and we've made great progress with the ending of bin Ladin as a voice of extremism and death, and we want to continue to move on all fronts at the same time. And that means we want others to be part of what we're doing.
Couric: The peace talks have stalled. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has become more insulated. George Mitchell is resigning. The Obama Administration has been criticized for not working hard enough to move the ball forward in the peace process. Fair criticism?
Clinton: Not at all fair. I think President Obama was absolutely right today in saying that we've been working on this, literally, from the first day in office. And Senator Mitchell had always said he could give it two years, he couldn't give it more. His very able deputy, Ambassador David Hale, has stepped in. Senator Mitchell was at the speech today because obviously, he remains interested, but could not continue his commitments. And what the President said today was we want to see negotiations, but we're not able to make those negotiations happen. But we know that without negotiations, there will be no end to the conflict, no end to the claims, and no two-state solution.
Couric: The President said that the Palestinian state should be a non-militarized state. Why don't the Palestinians have the right of self-defense like Israel, and do you think they'll accept that?
Clinton: Well, there are non-militarized states around the world. And we believe - and I think for many years Palestinians have publicly and privately suggested that they believe as well - that that would be an important step for them to take.
Why? Number one, because they don't want to look like they're a threat to any of their neighbors; not just Israel, but others. And number two, because they know that Israel has legitimate security concerns.
Couric: Let's talk about the killing of Usama bin Ladin. Would you recommend additional unilateral raids if you knew the whereabouts of other key al-Qaida figures in Pakistan?
Clinton: Well, Katie, I'm not going to comment on any hypotheticals and I certainly wouldn't go into any operational details. But I think it should be sufficient to say that the United States has made it clear from the very moment we were attacked - and I remember it excruciatingly well because of my service as a senator in New York - that we would go after those who had attacked us. Bin Ladin was our primary target. The President made a gutsy decision. We were very pleased that the operation succeeded. And we've made it clear to people around the world that if we locate someone who has been part of the al-Qaida leadership, then you get him or we will get him.
Couric: When it comes to harboring Usama bin Ladin, I know you're trying to find out what did they know, when did they know it, and who knew. Clearly, someone did. What is the U.S. going to do about Pakistan?
Clinton: Well, I would answer the same way that Secretary Gates said, because he and I see this eye to eye. We believe that it was not proven that anybody at the top of the government in Pakistan knew where bin Ladin was, but it seems likely that somebody did know. I said that the first time I went to Pakistan. I said, "It's hard to believe that somebody in your government somewhere - and it could be some very low-level person - doesn't know where he is." And we're having very candid conversations with our Pakistani partners.
I want to make it clear to your audience that we've had good cooperation on many important strategic interests of the United States with Pakistan, and we have supported them in their own fight against the extremists who are killing and threatening their people. But we expect more. We're having conversations about what more we can do together.
Couric: When are you planning to go to Pakistan?
Clinton: Well, we'll see how the conversations go. Marc Grossman, my special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is there now, following up on some of the areas of concern.
Couric: You have said you are going to leave your post at the end of this term.
Couric: What are you going to do?
Clinton: Well, I don't know. I was thinking maybe take your job, but I don't know what your next job's going to be either, so - I love what I'm doing. And of course, serving the President, serving my country, is a very high honor. But I also want to do some other things too.
Couric: What will your legacy as Secretary of State be?
Clinton: Well, it's too --
Couric: What would you like it to be?
Clinton: Well, it's too soon to tell. I don't want to try to write it only about halfway through. But I think it is clear that what we've attempted to do, as I said in my introduction to the President this morning, is to marshal the resources of our diplomatic and development experts, because we were getting awfully militarized in our foreign policy. And I have the highest regard for my DOD colleagues. And we are now working side by side, not just here in Washington, but out in the field, in places like Afghanistan. And it's that kind of full government approach, using smart power to advance America's interests, that I think has to be the hallmark of our foreign policy.
Couric: The President said after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be. Not exactly the realist philosophy favored by the military. Is that too idealistic? Is it overreaching? Is it another way of looking at nation-building?
Clinton: I think it's always a mistake to characterize our foreign policy as either idealistic or realistic because America is both. If we were not idealistic, whoever would have believed that we could fulfill this crazy idea of our founders of equality under the law and a nation that was really built on fundamental freedoms? If we weren't realistic, how could we not only have survived but basically flourished and even triumphed through our more than 225 years of history?
We are both. And we idealistically, passionately, believe in human dignity and freedom and opportunity. That's what we stand for. But we are clear-eyed and very cold, calculating when it comes to figuring out how we're going to protect America and how we're going to further our interests and values. So it's not either/or. It never has been. And I think trying to put us as a nation or our foreign policy or any president or secretary of state into the either/or box really misses the complexity of what we are contending with.
Couric: Secretary of State Clinton, thank you so much for your time.
Clinton: Thank you, Katie. Great to talk to you and good luck.
Couric: Thank you.
Clinton: I've really enjoyed my - our many times together over the years.
Couric: Thank you.